NFC West: Kent Graham
"How concerned 49ers fans should be after Denver game?" he asks. "IMO, not much, but wanted to get your take."
Sando: The 49ers have a well-coached defense stocked with front-line talent. They'll be fine as long as their key players remain available to them. Aldon Smith's health is one variable to watch.
The 49ers are not going to dominate on defense from wire to wire this season. They open at Green Bay. They play road games against New Orleans and New England. Even last season, the 49ers gave up yardage in huge chunks against the best offenses they faced.
To review, "The 49ers allowed 422.5 yards per game last season when facing Michael Vick, Matthew Stafford, Eli Manning and Tony Romo, up from 270.1 yards per game against all other quarterbacks. Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Jay Cutler join Manning and Stafford on the schedule this season."
The 49ers should be better on defense even if their final stats aren't as good. They'll be more familiar with the scheme. They should be better at cornerback. The front seven remains fearsome.
But it's also possible the defense will find itself in tougher situations. The offense was sensational in avoiding turnovers last season. A few more turnovers would put opponents in better position to score points. The special teams were similarly dominant last season. A less dominant performance in that area would put additional stress on the defense.
I'm guessing the 49ers will take a couple steps backward from a statistical standpoint. But their defense should again be a strength and something that helps their chances in the postseason.
Some of the most dominant defenses in NFL history feasted on weak quarterbacks. As we discussed, the 2000 Baltimore Ravens faced Jay Fiedler, Brad Johnson, Kordell Stewart, Steve McNair, Mark Brunell, Vinny Testaverde, Jake Plummer, Kent Graham, Tim Couch, Scott Mitchell, Akili Smith, Doug Pederson, Ryan Leaf and a declining Troy Aikman.
How the 49ers' schedule shapes up will hinge, in part, on how well several less-proven quarterbacks fare this season. That list includes Christian Ponder, Mark Sanchez, Ryan Fitzpatrick, John Skelton/Kevin Kolb, Russell Wilson, Sam Bradford and Ryan Tannehill.
Dilfer was the "game manager" at quarterback for that Ravens team. He finds quite a few similarities and a few important differences. Dilfer also explains how both teams played to their strengths even when it meant sacrificing big plays on offense.
My initial reaction to the Ravens-49ers premise: Baltimore was better on defense. Those Ravens also struggled to find their identity early in the season, winning only five of their first nine games before closing the regular season with seven consecutive victories. The current 49ers are who they thought they were -- a team that could win with defense, special teams, the running game and efficient quarterback play.
That Baltimore team faced relatively weak quarterbacks at a time when defenses could get away with more menacing play. Former Ravens coach Brian Billick addressed this during an NFL.com column addressing the Ravens-49ers comparisons.
"When we won our championship, there was a void of great quarterback play in the league," Billick wrote. "Running the ball well, and not turning it over, was enough to augment our great defense. At the time, the Elways, Marinos, Montanas and Aikmans of the world were transitioning out of the game, and we were a few years away from the emergence of the great quarterbacks of today."
Those Ravens lost games against Jay Fiedler, Brad Johnson and Kordell Stewart. They went 1-1 against Steve McNair and 2-0 against Mark Brunell. They beat Vinny Testaverde and a young Jake Plummer. They also collected victories against an over-the-hill Troy Aikman, plus Kent Graham, Tim Couch, Scott Mitchell, Akili Smith, Doug Pederson and Ryan Leaf.
The current 49ers have gone 8-1 against a mix of opposing quarterbacks. They lost in overtime to Tony Romo, but also defeated Eli Manning and Matthew Stafford when those quarterbacks were at their best. They beat Michael Vick and Josh Freeman, who have subsequently struggled. They beat Andy Dalton, who appears promising, and also collected victories against Tarvaris Jackson, Colt McCoy and John Beck.
How these 49ers finish will ultimately determine whether the comparison holds up. My favorite line from Dilfer's column: "When I was asked this week if the San Francisco 49ers of 2011 reminded me of that 2000 Ravens team, I wasn't offended. I get it: great defense, good coaching, quarterback you hope doesn't ruin it."
Smith is playing better than that, and Dilfer says so. But that line captures the feeling quite a few 49ers fans had early in the season, if not as much lately.
John Boyle of the Everett Herald looks at the Seahawks' recently improved ground game.
Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com offers notes from practice Wednesday, including one showing camaraderie among running backs.
Also from Farnsworth: a look at what Colin Cole's return could mean for the Seattle defense. The team has missed Cole and defensive end Red Bryant. Farnsworth: "Junior Siavii (for Cole) and Kentwan Balmer (for Bryant) have done admirable jobs filling in, but they’re lighter and a lot less experienced in the nuances of the Seahawks’ defense – since Balmer was acquired in a mid-August trade with the 49ers and Siavii was signed in early September. With Cole’s return, Siavii can slide out and help Balmer man the five-technique end spot, as well as rotate with Cole at nose tackle."
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times checks in with Cole, who explains how he suffered an ankle injury against Oakland. Cole: "You want me to go into detail? All right. I was moving to my right, 3 minutes left in the game. They were on their goal line. Really a needless thing to happen. I was going to my right, and a guy basically to my left -- their right guard -- kind of jumped on the side of my leg. I'll say he jumped on the side of my leg. There's a proper way of cut blocks, and he just took it upon himself to kind of jump on the side of my leg. But there's nothing I can do about that now. The only thing I can do is concentrate on moving forward and trying to help the team with the next few games."
Jerry Brewer of the Seattle Times says Lofa Tatupu is relishing the Seahawks' playoff relevance and exciting developments in his personal life. Tatupu: "It's everything you dream of. Not to sound cliché, but it is. It's magical. In the NFL, when you're in the hunt this time of year, every little thing matters — every practice, every game, every day. It's football at its most intense. I love it. I know it hasn't looked pretty for us this year. But, really, it doesn't matter. We're right there."
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt sounds much happier with Dan Williams than with Calais Campbell. Whisenhunt offered specific reasons why he thought Williams was performing well. Here is what he said regarding Campbell: "First of all, I don't like to evaluate players in-season. I don't believe in doing that. I think that, right now, there are a lot of guys on this team who haven't played the way we all thought or expected. Probably a lot of coaches haven't coaches the way we expected. That's something we'll look at after the season and evaluate. The only thing I'll say is I'm not questioning anyone's effort."
Also from Somers: New Cardinals quarterback Richard Bartel was hunting wild hogs as recently as one week ago.
Paola Boivin of the Arizona Republic offers thoughts on John Skelton's emergence as the Cardinals' likely starting quarterback. Boivin: "What can Skelton do? How does Larry Fitzgerald feel? Leaving Derek Anderson in, if he's healthy, feels a little bit like pushing Fitzgerald toward the door. His contract expires after the 2011 season and the team would like to begin talks on a new deal no later than the spring. Why not Skelton? His 6-foot-5, 244-pound frame screams NFL prototype. At the combine, he ran a 4.85 40, seventh-best among all quarterbacks. His vertical jump was fourth best. The Cardinals liked him enough to trade cornerback Bryant McFadden and a sixth-round pick to move to the fifth round. We just don't know enough."
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says the team appears on the verge of starting three quarterbacks in a season for the sixth time since the franchise moved to Arizona. Urban: "Assuming Anderson doesn’t start, the Cardinals will use a third starting quarterback in a season for the sixth time since the franchise moved to Arizona in 1988, although it has only happened once since the Cards’ playoff year of 1998. That’s when Denny Green, in his first season of 2004, briefly derailed the Josh McCown experiment with two starts for Shaun King and then one for rookie John Navarre before going back to McCown. The other four times were 1989 (Gary Hogeboom 13 starts, Tom Tupa 2; Timm Rosenbach 1), 1991 (Tupa 11, Stan Gelbaugh 3, Chris Chandler 2), 1994 (Steve Beuerlein 7, Jim McMahon 1, Jay Schroeder 8) and 1997 (Kent Graham 6, Stoney Case 1, Jake Plummer 9)."
Doug Farrar of Football Outsiders offers thoughts on Rams quarterback Sam Bradford. Analyst Greg Cosell: "Because of his accuracy, he will always make his receivers better in the long run. Because he's very compact, and he's very accurate. Believe me, I'm not comparing him to Tom Brady at this point in time, but I think he has attributes like that. Brady had Moss for a few years, and Moss was a certain type of player, but for the most part, Brady has not has what you would call elite receivers. And Bradford is the kind of guy -- because he's so compact and accurate, and he's exhibited such great timing and anticipation -- who can make receivers that you would not say are Top 10, better."
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams are scrambling at linebacker after losing Na'il Diggs for the remainder of the season. Thomas: "Rams coaches have two more practice days to sort through their options at the strongside and weakside positions. But at face value, the most logical starting combination would be David Vobora at strongside linebacker — where he started 10 times in '09 — and either Chris Chamberlain or Larry Grant at the weakside position. Chamberlain has better coverage skills than Grant, so he makes more sense against a pass-happy team such as the Saints. But complicating matters is the fact that Chamberlain suffered a right hand injury against Arizona."
Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch checks in with Rams linebacker David Nixon. Coats: "A former Eagle Scout, Nixon's road to the NFL was interrupted by a two-year Mormon mission to Quito, Ecuador, after his freshman season at BYU."
Also from Coats: Bradford got advice from Drew Brees regarding shoulder surgery. Bradford said Brees' shoulder injury was far worse, however.
Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says rookie left tackle Rodger Saffold has been playing well for the Rams. Saffold and the line face their toughest test of the season to this point when they visit the Superdome in Week 14. Miklasz: "How good is Saffold? Indianapolis Colts president Bill Polian, one of the best talent evaluators in NFL history, volunteered on his radio show Monday night that he made a mistake in not drafting Saffold at the end of the first round. The Rams picked Saffold at the top of the second round. Polian doesn't toss out compliments like that unless he's very, very, impressed. And it takes a lot to impress Polian."
Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com has this to say about the Rams' linebacker situation: "It appears that David Vobora will get the first shot at replacing Diggs at SLB and Chris Chamberlain will work at WIL. Chamberlain is wearing a small cast on his wrist but says no surgery will be required on small fracture. He practiced fully on Wednesday."
Brian Stull of 101ESPN St. Louis says the Rams' secondary is dealing with quite a few injuries.
Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says the 49ers and Seahawks took differing approaches to working new running backs into their offenses. One key difference: The 49ers already had Frank Gore, so there was less incentive to work Brian Westbrook into the offense initially. Seattle did not have a physical running back. Lynch: "Running back is one of those positions where you can come in and make an impact almost immediately. Basically, the protections and the running plays are the same, just worded differently. Just change up the terminology and you have the same playbook."
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says Alex Smith knows he needs to be more aggressive. One limiting factor: Smith is not aggressive by nature.
Also from Barrows: answering questions about the 49ers' quarterback situation.
More from Barrows: Mike Singletary says the 49ers' offense was limited with Troy Smith at quarterback.
Lowell Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says it's fitting the 49ers' top two quarterbacks have the same last name. Cohn: "Tweedle Alex allegedly gives the Niners the best opportunity to win because he knows the playbook better than Tweedle Troy, and it's always helpful in the NFL to know the playbook. Of course, Tweedle Alex also knew the playbook better when the 49ers and Tweedle Troy got run out of Green Bay. Why didn't Singletary start Tweedle Alex then? You tell me." Not that the 49ers' floundering ways have invited cynicism.
Eric Branch of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the departure of longtime assistant coach Johnnie Lynn heading into Week 14 counts as par for the course in San Francisco.
Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says Alex Smith feels as though he's a good quarterback. Smith: "Absolutely. I have the ability to make all the throws on the field. [I'm] athletic enough that I think I can make plays with my feet when I need to. I can handle I think any playbook out there, [any] adjustments you have to make. I think I can. Have I done that consistently? To be honest, no. That's what I need to do."
David White of the San Francisco Chronicle says Singletary was vague when discussing Lynn's departure. Singletary: "I visited with Johnnie before he left. All I'm going to say about that is that is something I will not comment on. But Johnnie and his family will deal with it, and I lose a good friend."
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
|Recognize him? Quarterback Tom Tupa started 13 games for the Cardinals, same as Gary Hogeboom and Jeff Blake -- and nearly as many as Matt Leinart.|
At the other end, we can safely declare Kurt Warner the best starting quarterback for two of the four NFC West teams -- the Cardinals and Rams -- since those franchises last relocated.
With an assist from information available at Pro Football Reference, I counted 22 starting quarterbacks for the Cardinals in the 21 seasons since the team moved to Arizona for the 1988 season. Only one has started more games for the Cardinals than Warner during that time. A quick recap, in order of most starts:
1. Jake Plummer (82 starts)
2. Warner (42)
3. Josh McCown (22)
4. Steve Beuerlein (21)
5. Timm Rosenbach (20)
6. Chris Chandler (17)
7. Dave Krieg (16)
7. Matt Leinart (16)
9. Neil Lomax (14)
9. Kent Graham (14)
11. Gary Hogeboom (13)
11. Tom Tupa (13)
11. Jeff Blake (13)
14. Jay Schroeder (8)
14. Boomer Esiason (8)
16. Dave Brown (7)
17. Stan Gelbaugh (3)
18. Cliff Stoudt (2)
18. Shaun King (2)
20. Jim McMahon (1)
20. Stoney Case (1)
20. John Navarre (1)
The list affirms, in my view, that Leinart hasn't started enough games for the Cardinals to make an informed decision about his future with the team. The way Warner is going, Leinart might never start enough games to sufficiently inform that decision.